“A year and a half after cholera first struck Haiti, a tiny portion of the population on Thursday began getting vaccinated against the waterborne disease that has infected more than 530,000 Haitians and killed more than 7,040,” the New York Times reports (Sontag, 4/12). The pilot project, which will reach only one percent of Haiti’s population, “aim[s] … to show that it’s possible to give the required two doses over a two-week period to desperately poor and hard-to-reach people,” NPR’s health blog “Shots” writes. “If it works, the plan is to convince the Haitian government, deep-pocketed donors and international health agencies to support a much bigger campaign to vaccinate millions of Haitians at highest risk of cholera,” according to the blog (Knox, 4/12).
Water and Sanitation
Sri Lankan Health Officials Report Increase In Number Of Dengue Cases In First Quarter Compared To 2011
Sri Lankan health authorities “have reported a three-fold increase in the number of recorded dengue fever cases in the first quarter of this year,” IRIN reports. According to the national Epidemiology Unit, “9,317 dengue cases and 38 deaths were reported in the first three months of 2012, [compared with] 3,103 in the first quarter of 2011,” the news service writes, noting that more than half of the cases were recorded “in the country’s Western Province, where most of the island’s 20 million inhabitants live.” Intermittent rain, which allows stagnant water to collect and create mosquito breeding grounds, are expected to continue through April, and “[h]ealth officials agree that removing mosquito breeding sites is the most important step in mitigating risk,” according to IRIN. “In May 2010 the government launched a campaign to curb the spread of the disease,” and last year the number of cases dropped when compared to 2010, the news service notes (4/11).
“The toilet is a magnificent thing. … Unfortunately it is an impractical luxury for about two-thirds of the world’s seven billion people because it relies on connections to water and sewerage systems that must be built and maintained at great expense,” a Bloomberg editorial writes. “About 40 percent of all people, an estimated 2.6 billion of them, have no access to even a minimally sanitary facility, according to the World Health Organization,” and “[t]he result is illness and early death. Diarrheal diseases, including those linked to improper sanitation, are the second largest killer in the developing world, taking two million lives annually,” the editorial continues.
Though the focus on typhoid fever traditionally has focused on Asia, where the disease is endemic, “[s]ince early November 2011, there has been a surge of typhoid fever outbreaks in central and southern Africa, affecting children and adults alike,” Christopher Nelson, director of the Coalition against Typhoid (CaT) at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and Ciro de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, write in this Atlantic opinion piece. “Apart from the illness, severe complications, and death that accompanies these typhoid outbreaks, disruptions of local water supplies interrupt the daily activities of entire communities and cities. Despite this large burden, typhoid has remained on the back burner of the global public health agenda, allowing the cycle of endemic disease and episodic outbreaks to continue, particularly in Africa,” they write and discuss the activities of CaT, which advocates for people with the disease and supports research, prevention, control, and surveillance programs.
In a monthly bulletin (.pdf) on the humanitarian response in Haiti, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that an increase of new cholera cases has been recorded in the western and northern parts of the country and “that Haitian health officials recorded 77 new cases a day for the whole country in early March, when the rains began,” the Associated Press/USA Today reports. “The new cholera cases come after a steady decline since June of last year when aid workers saw peaks of more than 1,000 cases on certain days,” the news agency writes.
Officials from the U.S., African Union and the international community “are working with Sudan’s government to open humanitarian access to” the country’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where refugees “fleeing fighting between local militia and government troops” have gathered and are in need of food aid, VOA News reports. The officials are asking “Khartoum to approve a plan for humanitarian corridors as more than 140,000 new refugees have left for South Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia,” the news service writes, adding that Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, “said there are ways to get food aid into Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile without Khartoum’s consent, but they are inadequate to the need” (Stearns, 4/2). On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved by voice vote a resolution (.pdf) urging an end to cross-border conflict and “calling for ‘the government of Sudan to allow immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access to South Kordofan, Blue Nile and all other conflict-affected areas of Sudan,'” Agence France-Presse reports (3/31).
In this Reuters opinion piece, finance blogger Felix Salmon responds to a New York Times (NYT) article published on Monday in which journalist Deborah Sontag examines the global response to Haiti’s cholera epidemic. He writes, “There’s no doubt that Haiti’s cholera epidemic was massive and tragic, and that the response to it could have been better, in an ideal world. But Sontag barely attempts to address the question of why the response was suboptimal. … Rather, [she] spends a huge amount of effort tracking down, on the one hand, purely anecdotal stories of individual Haitians who were exposed to the disease, and on the other hand, the detailed story of whether and how the outbreak could be traced back to a group of Nepalese peacekeepers on the island.”
“Officials in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, [in] northwestern Somalia, are appealing for food aid and potable water for thousands of families who have lost their livelihoods in the current drought,” IRIN reports. “In February, [the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP)] provided food assistance to nearly 150,000 people in Somaliland, according to Challiss McDonough, WFP’s senior spokesperson for East, Central and Southern Africa,” according to the news service. Food insecurity in some areas is classified at “crisis level,” with children, expectant and nursing mothers, and the elderly most affected, IRIN notes. “WFP is shifting its focus from emergency assistance towards targeted programs, including building reservoirs, wells and roads which support communities’ resilience to seasonal shocks, according to spokesperson McDonough, who said that in the past year WFP had doubled the number of nutrition programs in Somalia,” the news service writes (3/30).
A planned mass cholera vaccination project in Haiti continues to be “bogged down in bureaucratic red tape,” as spring rains begin and the number of cholera cases starts to rise, NPR’s health blog “Shots” reports. The Haitian medical group GHESKIO and international health organization Partners In Health are organizing the vaccination campaign, which “is awaiting approval from a national ethics committee, which wants assurance that the vaccine is no longer considered experimental,” according to the news service, which notes the “WHO last November approved the dollar-a-dose vaccine that’s ready to be used in Haiti.”
U.S. intelligence agencies released a report (.pdf) on Thursday warning that “[d]rought, floods and a lack of fresh water may cause significant global instability and conflict in the coming decades, as developing countries scramble to meet demand from exploding populations while dealing with the effects of climate change,” the Associated Press reports (Lee, 3/22). “The Intelligence Community Assessment report says the water challenges will increase regional tensions and distract countries from working with the U.S. on important issues,” VOA News writes, noting, “The report’s purpose was to assess the impact of global water issues on U.S. security interests over the next 30 years” (3/22).